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- Irish Race in the Past and the Present - 3/134 -


purpose, however unconscious they may have been of its tendency, seems more defined of opening up for themselves a path of their own. And in this they followed only the promptings of Nature.

The only people in Europe which remained untouched by what is called Roman civilization--never having seen a Roman soldier on their shores; never having been blessed by the construction of Roman baths and amphitheatres; never having listened to the declamations of Roman rhetoricians and sophists, nor received the decrees of Roman praetors, nor been subject to the exactions of the Roman fisc--they never saw among them, in halls and basilicas erected under the direction of Roman architects, Roman judges, governors, proconsuls, enforcing the decrees of the Caesars against the introduction or propagation of the Christian religion. Hence it entered in to them without opposition and bloodshed.

But the new religion, far from depriving them of their characteristics, consecrated and made them lasting. They had their primitive traditions and tastes, their patriarchal government and manners, their ideas of true freedom and honor, reaching back almost to the cradle of mankind. They resolved to hold these against all comers, and they have been faithful to their resolve down to our own times. Fourteen hundred years of history since Patrick preached to them proves it clearly enough.

First, then, although the Germanic tribes of the first invasion, as it is called, did not reach their shore, for the reason that the Germans, as little as the Celts, never possessed a navy--although neither Frank, nor Vandal, nor Hun, renewed among them the horrors witnessed in Gaul, Spain, Italy, and Africa--they could not remain safe from the Scandinavian pirates, whose vessels scoured all the northern seas before they could enter the Mediterranean through the Straits of Gibraltar.

The Northmen, the Danes, came and tried to establish themselves among them and inculcate their northern manners, system, and municipal life. They succeeded in England, Holland, the north of France, and the south of Italy; in a word, wherever the wind had driven their hide-bound boats. The Irish was the only nation of Western Europe which beat them back, and refused to receive the boon of their higher civilization.

As soon as the glories of the reign of Charlemagne had gone down in a sunset of splendor, the Northmen entered unopposed all the great rivers of France and Spain. They speedily conquered England. On all sides they ravaged the country and destroyed the population, whose only defence consisted in prayers to Heaven, with here and there an heroic bishop or count. In Ireland alone the Danes found to their cost that the Irish spear was thrust with a steady and firm hand; and after two hundred years of struggle not only had they not arrived at the survey and division of the soil, as wherever else they had set foot, but, after Clontarf, the few cities they still occupied were compelled to pay tribute to the Irish Ard-Righ. Hence all attempts to substitute the Scandinavian social system for that of the Irish septs and clans were forever frustrated. City life and maritime enterprises, together with commerce and trade, were as scornfully rejected as the worship of Thor and Odin.

Soon after this first victory of Ireland over Northern Europe, the Anglo-Norman invasion originated a second struggle of longer duration and mightier import. The English Strongbow replaced the Danes with Norman freebooters, who occupied the precise spots which the new owners had reconquered from the Northmen, and never an inch more. Then a great spectacle was offered to the world, which has too much escaped the observation of historians, and to which we intend to draw the attention of our readers.

The primitive, simple, patriarchal system of clanship was Confronted by the stern, young, ferocious feudal system, which was then beginning to prevail all over Europe. The question was, Would Ireland consent to become European as Europe was then organizing herself? The struggle, as we shall see, between the Irish and the English in the twelfth century and later on, was merely a contest between the sept system and feudalism, involving, it is true, the possession of land. And, at the end of a contest lasting four hundred years, feudalism was so thoroughly defeated that the English of the Pale adopted the Irish manners, customs, and even language, and formed only new septs among the old ones.

Hence Ireland escaped all the commotions produced in Europe by the consequences of the feudal system:

I. Serfdom, which was generally substituted for slavery, never existed in Ireland, slavery having disappeared before the entry of the Anglo-Normans.

II. The universal oppression of the lower classes, which caused the simultaneous rising of the communes all over Europe, never having existed in Ireland, we shall not be surprised to find no mention in Irish history of that wide-spread institution of the eleventh and following centuries.

III. An immense advantage which Ireland derived from her isolation, on which she always insisted, was her being altogether freed from the fearful mediaeval heresies which convulsed France particularly for a long period, and which invariably came from the East.

For Erin remained so completely shut off from the rest of Europe, that, in spite of its ardent Catholicism, the Crusades were never preached to its inhabitants; and, if some individual Irishman joined the ranks of the warriors led to Palestine by Richard Coeur de Lion, the nation was in no way affected by the good or bad results which everywhere ensued from the marching of the Christian armies against the Moslem.

The sects which sprang from Manicheism were certainly an evil consequence of the holy wars; and it would be a great error to think that those heresies were short-lived and affected only for a brief space of time the social and moral state of Europe. It may be said that their fearfully disorganizing influence lasts to this day. If modern secret societies do not, in point of fact, derive their existence directly from the Bulgarism and Manicheism of the Middle Ages, there is no doubt that those dark errors, which Imposed on all their adepts a stern secrecy, paved the way for the conspiracies of our times. Hence Ireland, not having felt the effect of the former heresies, is in our days almost free from the universal contagion now decomposing the social fabric on all sides.

But it is chiefly in modern times that the successful resistance offered by Ireland to many wide-spread European evils, and its strong attachment to its old customs, will evoke our wonder.

Clanship reigned still over more than four-fifths of the island when the Portuguese were conquering a great part of India, and the Spaniards making Central and South America a province of their almost universal monarchy.

The poets, harpers, antiquarians, genealogists, and students of Brehon law, still held full sway over almost the whole island, when the revival of pagan learning was, we may say, convulsing Italy, giving a new direction to the ideas of Germany, and penetrating France, Holland, and Switzerland. Happy were the Irish to escape that brilliant but fatal invasion of mythology and Grecian art and literature! Had they not received enough of Greek and Latin lore at the hands of their first apostles and missionaries, and through the instrumentality of the numerous amanuenses and miniaturists in their monasteries and convents? Those holy men had brought them what Christian Rome had purified of the old pagan dross, and sanctified by the new Divine Spirit.

Virgin Ireland having thus remained undefiled, and never having even been agitated by all those earlier causes of succeeding revolutions, Protestantism, the final explosion of them all, could make no impression on her--a fact which remains to this day the brightest proof of her strength and vigor.

But, before speaking of this last conflict, we must meet an objection which will naturally present itself.

To steadily refuse to enter into the current of European thought, and object to submit in any way to its influence, is, pretend many, really to reject the claims of civilization, and persist in refusing to enter upon the path of progress. The North American savage has always been most persistent in this stubborn opposition to civilized life, and no one has as yet considered this a praiseworthy attribute. The more barbarous a tribe, the more firmly it adheres to its traditions, the more pertinaciously it follows the customs of its ancestors. They are immovable, and cannot be brought to adopt usages new to them, even when they see the immense advantages they would reap from their adoption. Hence the greater number of writers, chiefly English, who have treated of Irish affairs, unhesitatingly call them barbarians, precisely on account of their stubbornness in rejecting the advances of the Anglo-Norman invaders. Sir John Davies, the attorney-general of James I., could scarcely write a page on the subject without reverting to this idea.

We answer that the Irish, even before their conversion to Christianity, but chiefly after, were not barbarians; they never opposed true progress; and they became, in fact, in the sixth, seventh, and eighth centuries, the moral and scientific educators of the greater part of Europe. What they refused to adopt they were right in rejecting. But, as there are still many men who, without ever having studied the question, do not hesitate, even in our days, to throw barbarism in their teeth, and attribute to it the pitiable condition which the Irish to-day present to the world, we add a few further considerations on this point.

First, then, we say, barbarians have no history; and the Irish certainly had a history long before St. Patrick converted them. Until lately, it is true, the common opinion of writers on Ireland was adverse to this assertion of ours; but, after the labors of modern antiquarians--of such men as O'Donovan, Todd, E. O'Curry, and others--there can no longer be any doubt on the subject. If Julius Caesar was right in stating that the Druids of Gaul confined themselves to oral teaching--and the statement may very well be questioned, with the light of present information on the subject--it is now proved that the Ollamhs of Erin kept written annals which went back to a very remote age of the world. The numerous histories and chronicles written by monks of the sixth and following centuries, the authenticity of which cannot be denied, evidently presuppose anterior compositions dating much farther back than the introduction of our holy religion into Ireland, which the Christian annalists had in their hands when they wrote their books, sometimes in Latin, sometimes in old Irish, sometimes in a strange medley of both languages. It is now known that St. Patrick brought to Ireland the Roman alphabet only, and that it was thenceforth used not merely for the ritual of the Church, and the dissemination of the Bible and of the works of the Holy Fathers, but likewise for the transcription, in these newly-consecrated symbols of thought, of the old manuscripts of the island; which soon disappeared, in the far greater number of instances at least, owing to the favor


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